What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is a digestive system illness.  It happens when gluten (wheat protein in the diet) triggers an abnormal reaction in the immune system. Damage happens to tiny finger-like fibers in the small intestine called villi.  The damage can cause diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, vomiting, and weight loss.  Children with celiac disease can have problems with growth, learning, and behavior. Celiac disease is also called celiac sprue and non-tropical sprue.

There is a lot of variation in how celiac disease presents.   While it can be diagnosed at any age -- from infancy to adulthood -- the classic form of celiac disease usually starts at 6 to 24 months of age.

Symptoms of Celiac Disease

Some of the common symptoms of celiac disease include:

  • Problems related to the digestive (GI) tract
    • Diarrhea
    • Constipation
    • Weight loss
    • Problems growing or gaining weight
    • Vomiting
    • Abdominal pain
    •  Bloating, distension or gassiness
    • Loss of appetite
    • Unexplained liver problems
  • Other signs and symptoms
    • Skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformis)
    •  Low iron in the blood
    • Short stature
    • Late puberty
    •  Recurrent mouth ulcers
    • Thin tooth enamel 
    • Arthritis
    • Feeling tired, irritable or apathetic
    • Behavior or school performance problems

Different Types of Celiac Disease

There are a number of ways that you can be affected by celiac disease.  Different types of celiac disease have been divided into a few categories.  Most people fall into the first two.


Main Features

Cassic celiac disease

Mainly digestive (GI) tract problems

Atypical celiac disease

Mainly symptoms outside the digestive (GI) tract

Silent celiac disease

Positive anitbody testing and biopsy, but no symptoms

Latent celiac disease

Positive antibody testing, negative biopsy, and no symptoms

Long-Term Health Problems

People with untreated celiac disease have an increased risk of other health problems, including:

  • Certain types of cancer, including cancer of the small and large bowel, tumors in the mouth and throat, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • Bone loss (osteoporosis)
  • Stunted growth
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Infertility or recurrent pregnancy loss
  • Psychiatric conditions

The information on this Web page is provided for educational purposes. You understand and agree that this information is not intended to be, and should not be used as, a substitute for medical treatment by a health care professional. You agree that Diabetes and Lipid Clinic of Alaska is not making a diagnosis of your condition or a recommendation about the course of treatment for your particular circumstances through the use of this Web page. You agree to be solely responsible for your use of information contained on this Web page

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